Page last updated at 10:12 GMT, Wednesday, 18 November 2009

When Big Brother turns bad

DIGITAL PLANET
By Dave Lee
BBC World Service

Josh Harris on the set of Quiet: We Live in Public
Josh Harris created an underground bunker for 100 hedonistic artists - and filmed them

For a man described as the "internet entrepreneur you've never heard of", Josh Harris has led an extraordinarily public life.

As an internet pioneer he took webcam surveillance to the extreme, becoming what many called the "Warhol of the web".

His story is now part of an award-winning documentary film, We Live in Public.

After setting up analyst firm Jupiter, he went on to found Pseudo.com, one of the web's first webcam portals.

Then, after making millions in the 1990s dotcom boom, he gathered 100 artists and moved them into an underground bunker on the eve of the new millennium for a project called Quiet: We Live in Public.

The new big problem is loss of self, or loss of individuality.
Josh Harris

Fitted with many cameras, the artists' every move - sex, fights, drug-taking - were recorded and broadcast online - until New York police shut the operation down.

Next, Harris fitted cameras in his own home, including in the bedroom, bathroom and toilet.

For six months, every detail of his life, and that of his girlfriend, Tanya Corrin, was captured and broadcast live while Harris interacted with fans in a chatroom.

During that six months, his girlfriend left him, his multi-million fortune was destroyed when the dotcom bubble burst, and he had a mental breakdown - all on camera.

Facing financial ruin, he retreated to an apple farm in upstate New York before heading to Ethiopia, where he now runs the broadcast company African Entertainment Network.

Big Brother anarchy

As the film begins to show at selected cinemas in the UK, Harris spoke to BBC World Service's Digital Planet about the bunker project, privacy and a changing media world.

"It was ahead of its time and, unlike the television show [Big Brother] which was a facsimile of living in public, we actually were living in public and the audience was not just watching - they were literally in our heads and doing things in our lives that we didn't necessarily control."

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He believes his experiment was prophetic, pre-empting a time when the internet has become the most influential form of media.

"We're just on the cusp where netcasting, or internet television, is the most powerful medium that man has even invented," he said. "The leap is exponential - it's not incremental."

"Google is now the most powerful medium on the face of the earth."

Unsurprisingly for a man who decided to allow anyone to watch his every move, Harris disregards any concept of privacy.

"In my experience, I think privacy is gone.

"The new big problem is loss of self, or loss of individuality."

Harris' next project is a return to voyeur experimentation.

"I'm going to build a facility where pop stars live on set, and all they do all day long is watch people in their homes. Sort of a game show."



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